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 The Cult of Arsinoe on Samonthrace

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PostSubject: The Cult of Arsinoe on Samonthrace   Fri Jan 01, 2010 2:31 am

Cult of the Great Gods


The identity and nature of the deities venerated at the sanctuary remains largely enigmatic, in large part because it was taboo to pronounce their names. Literary sources from antiquity refer to them under the collective appellation of "Cabeiri" (Greek: Κάβειροι, Kabeiroi), while they carry the simpler epithet of Gods or Great Gods (Μεγάλοι Θεοί/Megaloi Theoi) on inscriptions found on the site.
[edit] The Pantheon of Samothrace



Site plan of the sanctuary, showing chronology of major construction





The Pantheon of the Great Gods consists of numerous chthonic
deities, primarily predating the arrival of Greek colonists on the
island in the 7th century BC, and congregating around one central
figure - the Great Mother.

  • The Great Mother, a goddess often depicted on Samothracian coinage as a seated woman, with a lion at her side. Her original secret name was Axiéros. She is associated with the Anatolian Great Mother, the Phrygian Cybele, and the Trojan Mother Goddess of Mount Ida. The Greeks associated her equally with the fertility goddess Demeter.
    The Great Mother is the all-powerful mistress of the wild world of the
    mountains, venerated on sacred rocks where sacrifices and offerings
    where made to her. In the sanctuary of Samothrace, these altars
    correspond to porphyry
    outcroppings of various colours (red, green, blue, or grey). For her
    faithful, her power also manifested itself in veins of magnetic iron,
    from which they fashioned rings that initiates wore as signs of
    recognition. A number of these rings were recovered from the tombs in
    the neighbouring necropolis.


  • Hecate, under the name of Zerynthia, and Aphrodite-Zerynthia,
    two important nature goddesses, are equally venerated at Samothrace,
    their cult having been distanced from that of the Great Mother and more
    closely identified with deities more familiar to the Greeks.


  • Kadmylos (Καδμῦλος), the spouse of Axiéros, is a fertility god identified by the Greeks as Hermes; a phallic deity whose sacred symbols were a ram's head and a baton {kerykeion}, which was obviously a phallic symbol and can be found on some currency.


  • Two other masculine deities accompany Kadmylos. These may
    correspond to the two legendary heroes who founded the Samothracean
    mysteries; the brothers Dardanos (Δάρδανος) and Éétion (Ηετίων). They are associated by the Greeks with the Dioscuri, divine twins popular as protectors of mariners in distress.



  • During a later period this same myth was associated with that of the marriage of Cadmos and Harmony, possibly due to a similarity of names to Kadmylos and Electra.

[edit] The Rituals



General view of the remains of Hieron, from the southwest {site number 13}






A picturesque view of the Hieron





The whole of the sanctuary was open to all who wished to worship the
Great Gods, although access to buildings consecrated to the mysteries
was understood to be reserved for initiates.
The most common rituals were indistinguishable from practice at
other Greek sanctuaries. Prayer and supplications accompanied by blood sacrifices of domestic animals {sheep and pigs} burnt in sacred hearths (ἐσχάραι / eschárai), as well as libations made to the chthonic deities in circular or rectangular ritual pits (βόθρος / bóthros). A large number of rock altars were used, the largest of which was surrounded by a monumental enclosure at the end of the 4th century BC (site number 11).
The major annual festival,
which drew envoys to the island from throughout the Greek world,
probably took place in mid-July. It consisted of the presentation of a sacred play, which entailed a ritual wedding (hieros gamos);
this may have taken place in the building with the Dancer's Wall which
was built in the 4th century BC. During this era the belief arose that
the search for the missing maiden, followed by her marriage to the god
of the underworld, represented the marriage of Cadmos and Harmony. The frieze (see photo below) on which the Temenos is indicated may be an allusion to this marriage. Around 200 BC a Dionysian competition was added to the festival, facilitated by the construction of a theatre
(site plan number 10) opposite the great altar (site plan number 11).
According to local myth, it is in this era that the city of Samothrace
honoured a poet of Iasos in Caria for having composed the tragedy Dardanos and having effected other acts of good will around the island, the city, and the sanctuary.
Numerous votive offerings
were made at the sanctuary, which were placed in a building made for
the purpose next to the great altar (site plan number 12). Offerings
could be statues of bronze, marble or clay, weapons, vases, etc.
However, due to Samothraces location on busy maritime routes the cult
was particularly popular and numerous often very modest offerings found
their way there: excavations have turned up seashells and fish hooks
offered by mariners or fishermen who were likely thanking the
divinities for having protected them from the dangers of the sea.
[edit] The Initiation


A unique feature of the Samothracean mystery cult was its openness: as compared to the Eleusinian mysteries,
the initiation had no prerequisites for age, gender, status or
nationality. Everyone, men and women, adults and children, Greeks and
non-Greeks, the free, the indentured, or the enslaved could
participate. Nor was the initiation confined to a specific date and the
initiate could on the same day attain two successive degrees of the
mystery. The only condition, in fact, was to be present in the
sanctuary.
The first stage of the initiation was the myèsis (μύησις). A sacred account and special symbols were revealed to the mystes (μύστης); that is to say the initiate. In this fashion, Herodotus was given a revelation concerning the significance of phallic images of Hermes-Kadmylos. According to Varro,
the symbols revealed on this occasion symbolized heaven and earth. In
return for this revelation, which was kept secret, the initiate was
given the assurance of certain privileges: Hope for a better life, and
more particularly protection at sea, and possibly, as at Eleusius, the
promise of a happy after life. During the ceremony the initiate
received a crimson sash knotted around the waist that was supposed to
be a protective talisman. An iron ring exposed to the divine power of
magnetic stones was probably another symbol of protection conferred
during the initiation.

Frieze with bulls from the Arsinoé rotunda (Samothrace Museum) (site plan, number 15)





The preparation for the initiation took place in a small room south of the Anaktoron (site plan, number 16), a type of sacristy where the initiate was dressed in white and was given a lamp. The myèsis then took place in the Anaktoron (literally the House of the Lords),
a large hall capable of accommodating numerous already initiated
faithful, who would attend the ceremony seated on benches along the
walls. The initiate carried out a ritual washing in a basin situated in
the southeast corner and then made a libation to the gods in a circular
pit. At the end of the ceremony, the initiate took his place seated on
a round wooden platform facing the principal door while ritual dances
took place around him. He was then taken to the north chamber, the
sanctuary where he received the revelation proper. Access to this
sanctuary was forbidden to non-initiates. The initiate was given a
document attesting to his initiation in the mysteries and could, at
least during the later period, pay to have his name engraved on a
commemorative plaque.
The second degree of the initiation was called the épopteia (ἐποπτεία),
literally, the "contemplation". Unlike the one year interval between
degrees which was demanded at Eleusis, the second degree at Samothrace
could be obtained immediately after the myèsis. In spite of
this, it was only realized by a small number of initiates, which leads
us to believe that it involved some difficult conditions, though it is
unlikely that these conditions were financial or social. Lehman
assessed that it concerned moral issues, as the candidate was
auditioned and required to confess his sins. This audition took place
overnight in front of the Hiéron (site plan, number 13). A foundation
was recovered here which could have supported a giant torch; generally
speaking, the discovery of numerous lamps and torch supports throughout
this site confirms the nocturnal nature of the initiation rites. After
the interrogation and the eventual absolution awarded by the priest or
official the candidate was brought into the Hiéron, which also functioned as an épopteion,
or "place of contemplation", where ritual cleansing took place and
sacrifice was made into a sacred hearth located in the center of the
"holy of holies". The initiate then went to an apse in the rear of the building, which was probably intended to resemble a grotto. The hiérophante (ἱεροφάντης / hierophántês), otherwise known as the initiator, took his place on a platform (bêma), in the apse where he recited the liturgy and displayed the symbols of the mysteries.
During the Roman era, towards 200 AD,
the entrance to the Hiéron was modified to permit the entrance of live
sacrificial offerings. A parapet was constructed in the interior to
protect the spectators and a crypt was fitted into the apse. These
modifications permitted the celebration of the Kriobolia and the Taurobolia of the Anatolian Magna Mater,
which were introduced to the épopteia at this time. The new rites saw
the initiate or possibly only the priest in by proxy, descend into a
pit in the apse. The blood of the sacrificial animals then flowed over
him or her in the fashion of a baptismal rite.
[edit] Description of the Sanctuary



Foundation of the Arsinoé Rotunda and fragment of the dedication (site plan number 15)





The Samothrace site may appear to be somewhat confusing at first
glance; this is due to a combination of the unusual topography and the
two century long period over which the site was developed. The
sanctuary occupies three narrow terraces on the west slopes of mount
Hagios Georgios, separated by two steep-banked torrents. The entrance
is in the east through the Ptolemy II propylaeum, also known as the Ptolémaion
(site plan number 20), which spans the eastern brook and functions as a
bridge. Immediately to the West, on the first terrace, there is a
somewhat circular paved depression, containing an altar in the centre,
which was undoubtedly a sacrificial area; although the precise function
of this place has not further been determined.
A winding path descends towards the main terrace, between two
brooks, where the main monuments to the cult can be found. A large tholos, the Arsinoéion,
or Arsinoé Rotunda (site plan number 15), the largest covered round
space in the ancient Greek world (20 m in diameter), may have served to
welcome the théores,
sacred ambassadors delegated by cities and associations to attend the
great festivals at the sanctuary. The decoration of rosettes and
garlanded bull's heads leads some to believe that sacrifices may have
also taken place here. The rotunda was built on an older building of which only the foundation has remained.
Right at the opening of the path leading to the sanctuary, one finds the largest building, the Building of the Dancer's Frieze (site plan number 14), sometimes called the Temenos,
as it corresponds to a monumental enclosure marking a much older
sacrificial area. There is a great deal of variance in reconstructed
plans for this portion of the site (compare for example the different
editions of Lehman's archeological guide — the plan used in this
article reflects the 4th edition). It is in essence a simple court
preceded by an ionic propylaeum decorated with the well-known dancer's
frieze (photo below). The celebrated architect Scopas may have been the designer.
The most important building of the cult, the épopteion, is located to the South of the Temenos. This building bears the inscription of Hiéron
(site plan number 13). It is not known who dedicated this building, but
given the magnificence was likely a royal. It is some type of temple,
but there is no periptery (surround of columns) and only a single prostyle.
(partly restored - see photo above). The architectural ornamentation of
the facade is noteworthy for its elegance. The interior boasts the
largest unsupported span in the ancient Greek world - 11 metres. The
South end of this building is an apse (fr: abside inscrite),
which constitutes the most sacred portion. This apse may represent,
according to R. Ginouvès a grotto for conducting chthonic rituals. The
main altar, and the building for displaying votive offerings, are
located to the West of the Hiéron (site plan numbers 11 & 12).

Capital of the front of the west facade of the Ptolemy II Propylaeum: Griffons devouring a doe (site plan number 20)





The Anaktoron, the building for greeting the myèsis is located North of the Arsinoé Rotunda, though the version currently visible dates to the imperial era.
The third and final terrace, West of the spiritual centre of the
sanctuary, is primarily occupied by votive buildings such as the Miletean Building, so named as it was dedicated by a citizen of Miletus (sie plan number 5), and the Néôrion,
or naval monument (site plan number 6). The banquet hall is also here
(site plan number 7). Three other small Hellenistic treasures are not
well known (site plan, numbers 1 to 3). Overlooking the central
terrace, the space is above all dominated by a very large portico
(104 m long; site plan number Cool which acts as a monumental backdrop to
the sancutary, above the theatre.
It is in this area of the site that the most recent traces of occupation can be found: a square Byzantine fort in effect built of treasure; as it re-used building material from the original site.
[edit] A Macedonian national sanctuary


<blockquote>
« And we are told that Philip, after being initiated into the
mysteries of Samothrace at the same time with Olympias, he himself
being still a youth and she an orphan child, fell in love with her and
betrothed himself to her at once with the consent of her brother,
Arymbas. »
(Plutarch, Life of Alexander [1], II, 2)
</blockquote>
According to Plutarch, this is how Macedonian king Phillip II met his future spouse Olympias, the Epirote princess of the Aeacid dynasty, during their initiation to the mysteries of Samothrace. This historical anecdote defines the Argead dynasty's allegiance to the sanctuary, followed by the two dynasties of the Diadochi; the Ptolemaic dynasty and the Antigonid dynasty
who continually attempted to outdo one another in the 3rd century
BC,during their alternating periods of domination over the island and
more generally the Northern Aegean.
The first sovereign of whom epigraphic traces remain was the son of Philip II and half-brother of Alexander, Philip III of Macedon, who would be the principal benefactor of the Sanctuary during the 4th century BC: he probably commissioned the Temenos by 340 BC, the Main Altar in the next decade, the Hiéron by 325 BC, as well as the Doric monument and the border of the eastern circular area; these dedicated in his name as well as that of his nephew Alexander IV of Macedon, who jointly ruled from 323 BC to 317 BC.

Dancer's Frieze from the Temenos (site plan number 14)





The second surge of major construction commence started in the 280's with the Arsinoe II Rotunda, which may date from the period (288 BC281 BC) when this daughter of Ptolemy I was married to the Diadochi Lysimachus, then king of Macedon. Widowed after his death in battle in 281 BC, she married her half-brother, Ptolemy Keraunos and later her brother Ptolemy II in 274 BC.
Of the monumental dedication which surmounted the door, only a single
block remains, and it is thus not possible to determine the complete
inscription. Ptolemy II himself had the Propylaeum built across the
entrance to the sanctuary: the powerful Ptolemaic fleet which allowed
him to dominate the bulk of the Aegean up to the Thracian coast, and
the construction at Samothrace bear witness to his influence.
The re-establishment of the Antigonid dynasty on the Macedonian throne with Antigonus II Gonatas, soon lead to a clash for maritime supremacy on the Aegean: Antigonus Gonatas celebrated his victory at the naval battle of Kos by dedicating one of his victorious ships to the shrine by 255 – 245 BC; displayed in a building constructed on an ad hoc basis on the West terrace; the Néôrion (site plan number 6). It may have been inspired by another Néôrion, at Delos, probably built at the end of the 4th century BC, which he re-used and dedicated to another of his ships at the same time.
The naval war between the Ptolemaics and the Antigonids continued
intermittently through the second half of the 3rd century BC, until Philip V of Macedon, the last Antigonid king to attempt to establish a Macedonian thalassocracy, was finally beaten by an alliance between Rhodes and Pergamon. A monumental column was dedicated to him in front to the large stoa of the upper terrace by the Macedonians by 200 BC.
It was very probably during one of these episodes that the monumental
fountain containing a ship's prow of limestone and the famous Winged Victory
were built (cf. photograph and site plan number 9). This could actually
be a dedication from Rhodes rather than Macedon, as analysis of the
limestone used for the prow and the type of vessel indicated that it
came from Rhodes.
The sanctuary became the final refuge for the last king of Macedon, Perseus of Macedon, who went to the island after his defeat at the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC and was there arrested by the Romans.
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